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MORE ARGALIS REGISTERED ON SAILYUGEM RIDGE THAN IN PREVIOUS YEAR

28 october 2021
In the Altai Republic, in the transboundary zone between Russia and Mongolia, the counting of argalis, the Altai mountain sheep, has been completed

Inhabitants of the Kosh-Agach district of the Altai Republic, interviewed during the argali count, note: there are more argalis on Sailyugem Ridge, they appear in places where they have not been seen before, for example, in the foothills of Yuzhno-Chuisky range. This indicates an increase in the number of Altai mountain sheep, but frightens local herders. Shepherds worry that wild ungulates will compete with livestock for pastures that are already scarce. 

A herd of Altai mountain sheep.
(c) WWF / А. Kuzhlekov

Altai mountain sheep on Sailyugem Ridge. (C) A. KUZHLEKOV

The argali counting expedition on Sailyugem Ridge was carried out by employees of Sailyugem National Park with the support of WWF Russia from October 11th to 18th. Argalis are constantly moving across the border from Russia to Mongolia and back, and this makes it difficult to estimate the precise numbers. That is why counting teams work simultaneously on both sides of the border. This technique guarantees that there will be no under-counting or double counting of the same individuals migrating across the border. 

“This autumn the estrus — the mating season — began later for argalis, as the weather was warm. During the survey, we observed separately herds of males and females, and only by the end of our work did the animals begin to show interest in each other. The behavior of argalis was cautious, we could not get close even for taking pictures. We noted an interesting interaction of three males who were running towards Mongolia and seemed to be trying to challenge each other to fight, with smooth movements, moving away from each other, colliding with their foreheads; this must be because males become more active before estrus. The estrus will last until mid-November,” says Aleksey Kuzhlekov, a researcher at Sailyugem National Park.
Altai mountain sheep in the Altai Republic.
(c) WWF / А. Kuzhlekov

The counting of argalis on Sailyugem Ridge was carried out as part of the all-Russian full-scale census of the transboundary population of Altai mountain sheep in Russia, which is coordinated and supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The argali census is carried out by specialists from Russia and Mongolia every two years, which in 2018 was formalized at the state level within the framework of the Russian-Mongolian Joint Commission on Environmental Protection.

Pallas' cats and foxes can also be seen in places where herds of argalis graze in Altai.
(c) WWF / А. Kuzhlekov

A snow leopard was spotted on automatic cameras installed on Sailyugem Ridge. Most likely, the predator was hunting on argalis, since the Siberian ibex, the main food of the snow leopard in Russia, is extremely rare or non-existent in these places. The animal stayed near the camera traps for two or three days; perhaps there was a prey nearby, to which it returned. Usually snow leopards just walk past cameras. The census participants also met wolves, a Pallas' cat and a fox of the dark color that isn't typical for the Kosh-Agach district.

 Photo at the top of the page: A. Kuzhlekov

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